By James Hibberd
Updated January 17, 2013 at 08:03 PM EST

If you thought Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj bickered last night, just wait.

The diva combativeness on Fox’s American Idol will intensify during tonight’s second episode. “People said the passion between the two girls was invented,” Fox’s reality chief Mike Darnell tells EW. “It’s obviously real. That’s an interesting dynamic that we haven’t seen on one of these [singing competition] shows before.” In fact, the panel drama “ramps up” for all the judges, he says, not just Carey vs. Minaj. “All I can say is that tonight things get even more interesting.”

Idol viewers will also meet a stuttering contestant whose audition Darnell claims is the show’s “Susan Boyle moment.” “This piece tonight is going to make guys and girls cry,” he says.

And next week, the in-fighting could go to a new level with Idol auditions set in Charlotte, North Carolina. That’s where Carey and Minaj’s apparent sparring resulted in the infamous leaked tape, which set off a firestorm of headlines and questions about whether the celebrity feud was trumped up for ratings (the Idol team swears it’s all real). Darnell won’t say if their profanity-filled exchange is part of the show, only that viewers should expect a “very interesting” episode.

As for Wednesday’s Idol premiere ratings, Darnell says he’s relieved. The reality hit’s adult demo rating was down 19 percent to a new in-season premiere low (we predicted -18 percent), but last year dropped 24 percent. “The numbers were exactly our expectations,” he says. “Everything [on broadcast] is down; it could have been worse. It’s still standing very tall considering the competitiveness.”

The executive says most viewer feedback was positive about the feisty new panel, which includes country star Keith Urban in addition to returning judge Randy Jackson. “There’s several things that make me relieved more than worried,” Darnell says. “There’s a new dynamic on our panel that people seem to really like … not to mention we got some really good talent coming. I think we’re going to cut the [ratings] deficit over time.”

“The needle is not moved by the name of the judge but how they perform on the show,” Darnell concludes. “And these guys are performing incredible. Some years you don’t have anything to talk about it. Sometimes you have a lot of word of mouth and I think that’s what’s going on. You can feel it. There’s a lot of buzz in the air.”